Applied directly to your face or body, infused oils — vegetable oils in which herbs have been steeped — have moisturizing and other therapeutic benefits. Infused oils are also important ingredients in other herbal cosmetics and skin-care products, such as moisturizing face creams, body lotions, and healing salves.
Calendula is a common ingredient in creams, salves, and soaps that soothe skin irritations.
Good choices of oils for cosmetic use include grapeseed, kukui nut, and sweet almond oils. These oils tend to be lighter and feel less greasy than many other vegetable oils. Olive oil is often used to make infused oils for therapeutic application. For example, olive oil infused with the flowers of St. John’s wort makes an effective massage oil for treating sciatic nerve pain.
To make an herb-infused oil for external or cosmetic use, fill a glass jar about three-quarters full with dried herbs (calendula flowers, for example; see the chart for other suggestions). Pour the oil of your choice over the herbs to fill the jar. Be sure the herbs are completely submerged in the oil; any plant material exposed to the air can cause spoilage. Cap the jar. Allow the herbs to soak in the oil in a warm, sunny location for 4 to 6 weeks, and then strain it carefully. Pour the oil into clean, dry, amber bottles. Label and store them in a cool, dry location for up to 1 year.
You can use your herb-infused oils — alone or in combination — as the base of a soothing salve or skin cream. Beeswax solidifies the mix; vitamin E acts as a preservative. You’ll also need small tins to contain your salve. The beeswax and tins are available from herbal products suppliers and health food stores.
Lavender Hand Salve
8 ounces lavender-infused sweet almond oil
1 ounce beeswax, grated
4 vitamin E capsules
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops rosemary essential oil
In a double boiler over low heat, gently heat the infused oil. Add the beeswax and stir until melted. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the contents of the vitamin E capsules and the essential oils. Pour the salve into clean, dry tins. When the salve has cooled completely, put the caps on the tins. Label and store them in a cool, dry location for up to 1 year.
QUEEN of HUNGARY’S WATER
Handed down through the generations, Queen of Hungary’s water is a classic vinegar-based skin toner that tightens pores, balances pH, and improves skin tone. Herb-infused vinegars, such as this one, provide myriad cosmetic benefits and are remarkably easy to make. Although some modern women may shy away from using vinegar as a skin-care ingredient, herb-infused vinegars have been treasured cosmetics for centuries. In fact, few ingredients are as effective at balancing your skin’s pH. The aroma of the vinegar dissipates quickly and does not linger on your skin.
The ingredients and proportions used in Queen of Hungary’s water can vary according to what you have on hand, but the basic ingredients are dried calendula, chamomile, comfrey, elder flower, lemon balm, lemon peel, rose petals, rosemary, and sage. Place the herbs in a jar, cover them completely with apple cider vinegar, and let them soak (macerate) in the vinegar for at least 2 weeks. Strain. To each cup of herb-infused vinegar, add ½ cup of rose water (available from health food stores, natural grocers, and online herb suppliers). Store Queen of Hungary’s Water in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.